As dean of the Second Viennese School, Arnold Schoenberg was one of the twentieth century’s greatest exponents of atonal music. Yet, Schoenberg resisted dogma. Long after developing his twelve-tone system, he asserted that “there is still much good music to be written in C major.”
Weihnachtsmusik (“Christmas Music”) is one of the rare pieces in which Schoenberg embraces the tonal consonance of C major. Composed in 1921, the brief fantasia is scored for a chamber ensemble consisting of piano, string trio, and harmonium. It begins with the 1599 hymn tune, Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, harmonized by Michael Praetorius in 1609, and morphs into fragments of Silent Night. As the piece unfolds, the two melodies enter into a dreamy contrapuntal dialogue. Kyle Gann points out that both begin with the same sequence of four pitches (G-A-G-E). To my ear, there are also subtle intimations of Joy to the World, and echoes of the chamber music of Brahms.
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